Shaftesbury’s MP says he will be listening to locals’ ideas on how to address climate change during a meeting he will chair on Wednesday.
The event follows correspondence from residents who want more done to address the environmental crisis. Alfred spoke to Simon Hoare MP and campaigner Mandy Greenwood.
The Bow Room at The Exchange holds up to 100 people. Mandy Greenwood, organiser of the Shaftesbury’s Coffee Companions social events, is hoping that the venue in Sturminster Newton will be packed on Wednesday evening.
“I will be very happy if the room is anywhere near full. I think it will speak volumes,” said Mandy, a North Dorset resident who has asked for this discussion with our MP.
Mandy is expecting an inspiring exchange of ideas. “I’m hoping that Simon Hoare will give people an opportunity to say why they are at the meeting and what sort of emergency action they’re wanting to take or want support in taking. (I want) to hear from him what more he thinks we could be doing and how he might be able to contribute to that.”
Mandy says that the locals who have requested this meeting are not affiliated with an official group or any political party. “Five of us from North Dorset met at the Act Now climate lobby of Parliament back in the summer. We didn’t know each other. We were disappointed not to be able to meet with Simon Hoare on that day. We kept in touch. We wrote individually to ask for a meeting with him and didn’t get a response. Two of us drafted a letter and got just over 100 signatures asking for a meeting of this sort,” said Mandy. “Some of the signatures were gained by standing on the street and asking passers-by. I’m imagining that people will come from a range of political persuasions and levels of involvement in environmental issues.”
Simon Hoare booked the venue and agreed to chair the session after receiving the meeting request. “They wrote to see if I would meet them. I was very happy to do so. I’ve done so on a number of occasions with different groups and individuals in this policy arena. It’s very much a listening exercise. They’ve done a lot of thinking and they have got some ideas and thoughts. It’s going to be me listening to them, rather than me pontificating to them,” said Simon.
Mandy has outcomes she hopes to achieve from this event. “What we’re looking for is more coordinated action, ideally on a Dorset-wide level amongst individuals and in cooperation with the council and with our MP. Anything that draws us together in some sort of joint aim would be definite progress,” she said.
“It’s a three-layered conversation,” added Simon Hoare. “It’s international action, national action and then local-stroke-individual action.” And our MP expects Dorset Council to send a representative.
“A cabinet member of Dorset Council, who has been tasked by the Leader to have a peer review of how Dorset Council operates. I want to hear their ideas. I want to take those ideas to ministers and let ministers and officials reflect upon them to see if there is any merit in delivering them and how it could be done. It’s effectively doing the job as a local Member of Parliament properly, acting as a bridge between local people in a constituency through into the corridors of Whitehall and Westminster.”
A Planet Shaftesbury supporter, Arthur Simmonds, has posted online questioning Simon Hoare’s environmental record, as presented on the web. If you put ‘Simon Hoare’ and ‘climate change’ into Google, various aggregation websites that present parliamentary voting details suggest that our MP doesn’t have a very strong voting record in favour of climate change action. Alfred put Mr Simmonds’ comment to Simon Hoare.
“I would contest that. Very often these votes are against totally meaningless opposition day debates where opposition parties table all sorts of things. I’m fully supportive of what my party is doing in government. That’s the difference. Being in government means that you can actually effect change rather than just talking about it in the House of Commons,” said Mr Hoare, who added that a Google search result doesn’t put MP votes into context.
“I sat on the energy bill, where we were fully supportive of alternative means of energy generation in the renewables sector,” added Simon. “I don’t think I’ve got anything to explain away or be embarrassed about or be ashamed of.”
There are strong opinions about climate change. Both Mandy and Simon say they don’t want a shouting match at Wednesday’s meeting. “I think the advertising we have put out has tried to emphasise that we’re doing this because we love our world, we love the species in it and we are upset at the degradation,” explained Mandy.
“The very nature of being upset can make people very forceful and can also provoke a very negative reaction from people who feel they can’t engage, who feel that it somehow can’t be real and that the evidence is wrong. But Simon Hoare is keen to chair the meeting himself. Ultimately, it will be up to him to control that,” she added.
“I’m not going to turn this into a ‘he said, she said’ slanging match, because that’s a pretty arid form of debate. It turns people off,” said Mr Hoare. “It certainly doesn’t extend understanding of very complex issues or encourage people to start living their lives in a different and more sustainable way. Let’s hope that we don’t waste the time trying to rake over a very infertile field. That would be totally pointless.”
Mandy is keen to learn how our MP has responded to the climate emergency outside his parliamentary life. “It would be interesting to know what steps he’s personally taking to address the emergency,” said Mandy.
“I think the interesting thing whenever you talk about this is that the small things that one does all sound incredibly inconsequential,” said Simon. “As a household, we have reverted to using good old-fashioned bars of soap, rather than using liquid soap in bottles. That produces a huge amount of plastic over a period of time. Every time I go to meetings with local businesses, one of the first things we start talking about, because I always make sure it’s on my agenda, is what they are doing to make their operations greener, energy demands greener, recycling rates higher and the generation of non-sustainable materials lower. I think this is a pyramid.”
“One man or woman will not be able to make a difference,” added Mr Hoare. “There has to be collective action. We’re all like worker bees or ants in a nest. All of our individual things will ultimately add up to delivering change but individually it never sounds particularly impressive, does it?”
Mr Hoare says he will take the suggestions raised on Wednesday seriously. “I will take very detailed notes. We will agree a list of action points at the end. All sorts of letters then go off to the relevant government or local departments or service providers. At the end of that process, it takes a bit of time. I provide a composite note of the letters that I have sent on people’s behalf and the responses, so that people will be able to see work is in hand.”
The public meeting is at 6.30pm on Wednesday 9th October at The Bow Room at The Exchange in Sturminster Newton.